This is absolutely the first time I’ve ever heard of you, but I read a few articles and thought, ‘Wow, I hope he’ll answer mine,’ because, while the articles I’ve already read do speak to some of the issues I’m having, I don’t think they speak to most of the issues themselves.
Let me explain. I’m 24, fairly attractive, gay, and recently just graduated with a masters degree. I feel as if, logically, I shouldn’t have a problem finding a partner. That’s really what I want, a partner to settle down with and possibly raise a family. I want to put down roots and be happy. I see it going on around me every single day, my friends and a lot of my former classmates are all getting engaged, getting married, starting families, and I (like always) am left out on the fringes of it all.
So, since I broke things off with my incredibly toxic ex in January 2020, I’ve found myself in a cycle that goes something like this: 1) I meet a guy online (that’s really the only way to meet other gay or bisexual men in my area); 2) both sides develop some kind of interest; 3) we set a date to do something together in person; and then 4) I either get rejected outright (which isn’t very frequent) or ghosted by the guy in question (which is very frequent).
It’s really starting to hammer down on my self-esteem and self-worth. If I do get rejected outright, then I’m consistently told something along the lines that I’m “too much,” “something else,” “ugly,” or whatever else fits their fancy in order to get me to stop talking to them. I don’t understand why I can never win when it comes to dating. I’ve been in situations with other guys who are pushy, persistent, and outright annoying, so I try my best not to be like them, yet somehow that’s how I’m getting described when I feel like I’m just putting my best foot forward and making a good effort.
I feel like I should also mention that I have a suspicion these guys tell me exactly what I want to hear just so they can fuck me, but I don’t know how to change that. I’ve tried being more direct and intentional. Nothing works.
Stressed the fuck out,
A Troubled Soul
Alright ATS, I’m going to say all of this with the obvious caveat: I’m a cis straight guy. I’m not going to necessarily have the same perspective as someone who’s gay or dates within the queer community, which means that there’s always going to be angles or aspects that I may miss. Take my advice with all relevant amounts of salt.
So, I’m going to pull the curtain back a bit on the whole “dating advice” biz and tell you something a lot of advice columnists and dating coaches won’t: it’s really difficult to answer the question of “why am I getting rejected so often?” The problem — from the advice-giving end — is that, unless we follow you around like a date-seeking Richard Attenborough documentary, it’s hard to give a definitive answer.
(Incidentally, producers, I’m totally down for this. Call me!)
And even then, it’s going to be a relatively limited answer, because we will have only seen that small sliver of your life… or those of your prospective matches, for that matter. Without full 8k, sensurround data of both your internal narrative and everyone else’s and watching every second from some social panopticon… we’re only going to be able to give best and informed guesses.
This, incidentally is 60% of the reason why so much dating advice is so generic and unhelpful; people want to say something that isn’t “fucked if I know”, but they don’t have anything useful, insightful or actionable, and so they default to either feel-good rah-rah smoke or something do broadly applicable that it’s almost meaningless.
The remaining 40% is split between wanting to just exit the conversation as quickly as possible and “I dunno… maybe you’re acting like an asshole?”
Now that having been said: here’s my best guess based on what you’ve given me to work with.
The first issue isn’t an issue, so much as a mindset: the assumption that logic comes into dating at all. If relationships were at all logical, I’d be out of a job. As the wise man once said: love isn’t brains, it’s blood screaming for you to work its will. There will always be people who seem like they have everything that would make them a perfect match on paper, and yet they still struggle… often for reasons that have nothing to do with them or that they can affect. Is that fair? Is it logical? No… but it is what it is. Adjusting your expectations accordingly helps you understand how much of dating can be a numbers game, particularly when you’re dealing with apps.
Now the second issue may well be your age and what you want from a relationship. You’re young, my dude; even if it doesn’t feel like it to you, you’re still taking those early steps out into the world… and so are so many of your peers. You’re at a stage where a sizable proportion of your peers are more interested in fucking around than finding out. A lot of people at 24 are less interested in anything long term than either dating around or short term serial-monogamy. If you’re already on the marriage-kids-white-picket-fence-in-the-suburbs track, then you may be having a harder time finding guys your age who are also looking for that. And this isn’t a straight/gay/pan thing… it tends to be a guy thing. As Jenna Birch points out in her book The Love Gap, a lot of guys tend to progress in a linear fashion: they feel like they have to hit their achievements in sequential order before they’re “ready” to start dating seriously. That tends to mean “getting to a certain point in their careers”, “achieving X place in life” and so on… which often doesn’t come around until their late 20s or later.
(Would it make more sense to work on some of those in parallel instead? Yes, of course it would. Would it make even more sense to realize that they don’t need to be at 6th level before they unlock the “steady relationship” feat? Of course. But remember what I said about the place logic and sense has in this…)
So part of what you’re bumping into is simply the people you’re most interested in dating have different priorities right now… priorities that, unfortunately, clash with yours.
Now this ties into a potential third issue: demographics. You mention that you live in a place where the only reliable way to meet gay, bi or pan men is via dating apps. Men who sleep with men are already a relatively small portion of the general population; you might be in a place where they’re a fraction of a fraction. If that’s the case, then that can contribute to having a more difficult time finding guys who want the same kind of relationship you do. In areas with larger gay populations, the odds of finding folks who are on the same track as you tilts more in your favor, just by dint of sheer numbers. But if you’re in an area where the local LGBTQ community is split amongst three or four towns within driving distance of one another, then you have a smaller pool of potential candidates.
The fourth potential issue is a little thornier… in part because we only have your perspective to go on. You say that the guys who reject you directly tell you that “you’re too much” or what-not, presumably to get you to drop it and go away. The problem here is that whatever they tell you may or may not be accurate. What, exactly does “too much” mean, in this case? Are you being too pushy and not taking “no” — or “being ghosted” — for an answer? Is it that you have a strong, even overbearing personality and they just don’t vibe with it? Are you particularly campy in an area where the local gay and bi men are more straight-presenting? Or is it that you want something more settled and heteronormative and most of the guys you’re running into on the apps just don’t?
It’s impossible to say, and if we’re all being honest… the guys rejecting you may well not be able to say, either. This is one of the reasons why I tell guys that asking the people who reject them what they did wrong isn’t helpful. A lot of times, the person who rejected you either isn’t going to tell you the truth… or they may well not know themselves. A lot of times, people honestly think it’s one thing when, with time and perspective, they realize that it was something else entirely.
Now that having been said: you say you suspect that a lot of guys are, in the run-up to the date, are telling you what you want to hear in order to get into your pants. Unfortunately, that’s a common issue. A lot of men across the sexuality spectrum tend to cling to a philosophy of “man, the shit I’ll say to get laid,” where they will put on whatever facade it takes to get up in someone. Part of the issue you’re dealing with may be that you aren’t looking for a short-term hook-up… but other dudes are. If the guys you’re talking to are only interested in getting laid, finding another guy who’s also up for it means less work than trying to wine you and dine you until they can get what they want… and so they ghost like Walter Peck shut down the containment field.
The frustrating thing about all of this is that there’re relatively few actionable things to take away from this besides “keep trying” and “maybe consider looking in places where the demographics are more in your favor.”You could dial back the aspects of trying to get answers from folks who just aren’t into you… but if you’re not compatible in the first place, that’s not going to change their minds and make them decide that they are looking for someone to settle down with. Hell, you could be doing everything right and it could just be “look, you want X, everyone around you wants Y”. As the saying goes: it’s possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.
You could change what you’re looking for and accept the short-term, less, committed types, but that probably won’t make you happy. You can keep beating your head against this particular wall and frustrate yourself while you wait for your peers to get to the point where they’re ready for something more committed… but that’s not going to change much.
What I suggest for now — at least for the short term — is to de-prioritize dating for a while. You say that this is starting to hammer on your self-esteem; taking a break will go a long way towards giving you time to recover. After all, if it keeps hurting when you do something, it’s often a good idea to stop doing it.
This isn’t to say that you should give up on dating or finding someone… just that you may need to get off the apps and give some room for serendipity while you focus on the things that feed your soul and make your life awesome. This is one of the reasons why I recommend building your social circle; it gives you more opportunities to meet people through your day to day life — people who are more likely to be compatible with you and your long-term relationship goals — than swiping regularly.
And here’s one more thing to keep in mind, my dude: you’re young. You’re not even vaguely close to “running out of time”; you’ve got literal decades ahead of you. While I get the “want this now” impulse, this may be a case where patience is going to be your best virtue. One of the things that people your age and in your situation often don’t realize is that the whole 18-24 demographic isn’t prime relationship time. More often than not, you still have a lot of learning and self-discovery coming down the line; the things you prioritize in your mid 20s change when you hit your 30s. And while I know it feels like everyone else is coupling up and starting families… that doesn’t mean you’re the last one out, nor that you need to be on their timeline. Take a deep breath, let it out slowly and just prepare to commit to yourself and your awesome life for now. Let the dating apps be something you do briefly during downtime; if you match with someone, great, if not, no great loss.
Give yourself some time for your self-esteem to recover and your peers to catch up. It’s frustrating now, but it won’t be forever.
And if you need to improve your odds of finding someone righthehellnow… well, that’s when looking at larger metropolitan areas may be a better idea for you.
Well, first things first, LSA: you say you didn’t react verbally, but I hope you told your niece that you love her and you’re proud of her. Considering the rest of your letter, I’m going to assume that you did; that seems pretty in keeping with you and your feelings about your niece.
Now let’s talk about your worries for a minute.
First of all: it’s certainly possible that you’re wrestling with a little homophobia. I mean, for the leaps and bounds that society has made in our love and acceptance of LGBTQ people, we’ve all been swimming in a culture that has spent literal centuries demonizing queer folks. I’m old enough to remember when the president and his press secretary laughed and cracked jokes about gay people dying of AIDS. It wasn’t that long ago that someone being gay or trans was an acceptable punchline for a joke in blockbuster movies that everyone went to see. And frankly, there’s still a lot of homophobia and transphobia out there; just look at the moral panic over trans kids in sports and the way the GOP has made trans rights the latest front in the culture war.
Unfortunately cultural absorption is a motherfucker and it can be hard to uproot all the last bits of bullshit that it instilled in you… especially when it leaps up seemingly out of nowhere.
But I suspect the bigger reason for your reaction isn’t because she’s bi but because you’re having to adjust your mental image of your niece. You’ve spent her entire life seeing her in one particular light and now that you have this new information, you’re having to go back and retroactively adjust everything. So you’re having complicated and uncomfortable feelings, in no small part because you’re examining what you know and wondering if there’s something you missed. How is it possible that you didn’t know this critical aspect about your niece? Well… rather easily, honestly. We’re not perfect observers, and we regularly miss things that, with the benefit of time and perspective, feel like they should’ve been glaringly obvious. But they weren’t; they only are obvious in retrospect. Life isn’t a carefully crafted puzzle-box movie where the clues are all there if you just pay attention. It’s messy, chaotic, and there’s often shit that not only did we miss, but so did the people who are living through it.
So I think it’s fair to say that you’re just having complex feelings about things as you start to update your mental definition of who your niece is. And that will pass, especially as you continue to talk to your niece and see that this is another facet of who she is. It may take a bit while you put that knowledge into muscle memory, but you’ll get there.
But I suspect another part of why you’re having complex feelings is the fact that your niece is also polyamorous and evidently a unicorn1 — that is, a bi or pan woman who is interested in sleeping with or dating a heterosexual couple.
And to be fair: I can understand your worry, especially based on the manipulative bullshit your boyfriend pulled on you. That’s a shitty thing to have gone through and I’m sorry it happened to you. However, one of the things that’s worth keeping in mind is the difference between what he did to you and what your niece is doing. Your boyfriend had been lying to you and, apparently, his other girlfriend. He was a cheating piece of shit who dragged you into a situation under false pretenses and then dropped you like a cigarette butt. Your niece, on the other hand is in a non-monogamous relationship and (presumably) knew the dynamic going in. That’s a very different situation than the one you faced.
You also don’t know any details of their relationship, outside of “it exists” and “the others were an established couple before she started dating them”. You don’t know what sort of discussions they’ve had, what sort of poly they practice (and trust me, the number of polyamorous arrangements out there would require a spreadsheet, charts and infographics to document them fully) or even who initiated things. You don’t know, for example, whether she was the one who brought up being part of a triad, rather than being lured in, Svengali-like. Yes, she may be the secondary partner and someone else may be the primary partner… or she might end up becoming the primary. I’ve seen that happen with people in open marriages. Alternately, it may be a relationship-anarchy model, where everyone is of roughly equal importance.
Could she get hurt, manipulated or excluded by the couple? Of course. But getting hurt, excluded or manipulated isn’t exclusive to non-monogamy; plenty of folks in committed, monogamous relationships get hurt by toxic, shitty people. That’s just one of the risks of dating and making yourself vulnerable to someone else.
And just as importantly: your niece isn’t some babe in the woods, some lost lamb being naively lead away by a salivating coyote. She’s in her 30s. While your worry is understandable, she’s well old enough to take care of herself and has been for quite some time.
What do you do going forward? Well, let your niece know you love her, approve of her and you’re proud of her. Tell her you want her to be happy and you hope that she’s taking care of herself. If she wants to know why it took you a bit to tell her you were cool with things, let her know that it was just a matter of processing unexpected information, not disapproval. And if you want to jumpstart the process of letting her know that everything’s cool… make the first move yourself. You don’t need to call her up and say “Just FYI, I love you and accept you” — though it certainly wouldn’t hurt — but treating her the same way you did before she came out to you will be a pretty strong signal that things aren’t strained.
As for her triad… it may help ease your worries to let your niece explain things, to the extent that she’s comfortable doing so. It may also help if you do your own research about polyamory and non-monogamy. I’d recommend checking out Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, The Ethical Slut by Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton and Building Open Relationships by Dr. Liz Powell as starting points for understanding how ethically non-monogamous relationships work.
(Full disclosure: Dr. Liz is a friend and frequent collaborator and guest expert in this column)
But more than anything else: she’s a grown-ass woman. You have to trust her to know how to take care of herself, to handle her own affairs and to be able to get through any potential bumps and dings on the road of life.
So give yourself a minute to process, then call up your niece and just say “so…what’s up?”
- Incidentally, I still feel like the term should be “okapi”, not “unicorn”; okapi are rare but, critically, actually exist [↩]